London's got the Shard – Oslo has the Comb-over

Renzo Piano has made his mark in the Norwegian capital

Iconic architecture usually comes complete with a punchy, bolt-on metaphor. In London, the feted architect Renzo Piano has given us the Shard, and the Pop art Central St Giles development, where the future is always much too bright. And now, in Oslo, Piano's Astrup Fearnley Museum has a swerving, high-sheen carapace of glass. Welcome to the Comb-over where, according to the Italian maestro, mental disturbance will make you feel better.

Welcome, in fact, to the epicentre of art-mafia-driven change in this most charming of Scandinavian capitals. As from February, those who can afford it can gaze down on the Comb-over from the angular balcony of the £2,500-a-night Oslo Suite of The Thief, Oslo's first six-star hotel. No porn channels here, just video art – and, by special arrangement, works from the Astrup Fearnley's massive collection on the walls of its 120 rooms.

This cheek-by-jowling of the culturally refined and the commercially wannabe-refined typifies Oslo's approach to new development. Around the museum lies the faux glitzy architecture of the mixed-use buildings in Oslo's arts and shopping quarters, Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen. The architecture of the former is described by the Norwegian architect Ingerid Helsing Almaas as "a dressed-up bimbo on the arm of clean-shaven, double-breasted market forces."

Norway has a population of just five million, but generates petrodollar earnings and cash reserves worth the equivalent of more than half a trillion dollars annually; in those terms, Norway is the second wealthiest country in the world.

The architecture of the Astrup Fearnley Museum does not dramatise this hyper-wealth, but it certainly pumps up the volume of one of the world's most important private collections of modern and contemporary art. Jeff Koons's droll penetrations, Cindy Sherman's morbidly waxy poseurs, and Gilbert and George's panel God Loves Fucking, typify the 1980s vibe of the art on offer here.

The architecture that contains these sexualised visuals is rather demure and tailored with fastidious precision. "You must be really stupid if you do the same thing [architecturally]," says Piano. "You have your language, yes, but you tell different stories." The language of the design is absolutely characteristic of Piano's approach to museum buildings over the past decade: simple rectilinear forms oversailed by elegant, delicate-looking grids of glass or fins; not stupid, then, just familiar.

Despite its vitreous lounge-lizard comb-over, the museum is a pretty straightforward demonstration of modernist design; the aspen-clad walls of the buildings are smooth to the touch and razor sharp in their finer details, emphasising simple formal clarity. "This is fundamentally a roof with pieces under it", says Piano.

The cleverest design move is very simple. The fjord-side building, containing temporary exhibitions, is separated by a slim new canal from the permanent-collections building, and an office building. This removes any sense of overwhelming architectural mass, giving the museum ensemble the same scale as the surrounding commercial developments.

A key design inspiration was the Louisiana Museum of Art in Denmark, whose galleries meander in a big, irregular loop, some above ground, some partially buried in a hillside overlooking the Oresund.

The art experience is at its most interesting, and tense, in the permanent-collections buildings. Here, the galleries have unsettling spatial dissonances generated by the almost random, cut-and-paste arrangement of the spaces. Damien Hirst's bisected livestock, the pudendas of his Adam and Eve Exposed, and the seven panels of Matthew Barney's magisterially repellent Cremaster 5 paintings are perfectly at home in spaces that are, ultimately, a kind of architectural bondage.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick